2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale S: Track Review

Ducat 1199 Panigale S Yas Marina Launch

I can see 150 mph on the speedometer and I’m still accelerating hard with more straight to go. The front of my Suomy Apex Capirex crash helmet starts to push towards my face in its debut above 155 mph.

I can feel the air pressure building and my left ear bows to the pressure created by the wind. This isn’t because of any altitude change; this is because of raw Panigale power. When I stop after this session my ear pops.

Following my first laps around the Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi during the launch of the 2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale S, I realize it’s in essence nothing less than a three year old full on World superbike.

I kick off the Yas Marina test riding sessions by following Vito Guareschi, MotoGP team boss and test rider extraordinaire. I’m in a group that’s not quite up to riding fast in the sand dust brought in to the circuit by strong winds and it’s just Vito and me at the front.

I’m nowhere near as fast as Vito but I hang in there and suddenly there’s a whirlwind of feathers towards the end of one of the long straights. I see a Pigeon flying low across the circuit and then I see a dead Pigeon lying on the circuit.

Later I found out that Vito had hit it with his knee. This put a slight damper to my enthusiasm down the main straight and I gave up trying to achieve absolute top speed which is over 185 mph at this circuit. In these heavy winds the birds don’t fly at altitude and to be honest became a hazard for us testing on this day.

With its 195 horsepower twin engine and ultra lightweight chassis, the Panigale is a formidable straight muncher but due to the sheer physical strains of riding at such high speeds for so long I quickly cherished all the cornering parts much more than the high speed straights.

We’re talking serious top speed at Yas Marina and even the F1 boys spend considerable amount of time in seventh gear down this straight. At 1.2 kilometers, the straight isn’t for the faint hearted and it ends in a short downhill braking area.

On a motorcycle you really don’t want anything to happen at the end of this one, there is a tunnel but if you should outbreak yourself you could end up brushing off 125+ mph on a concrete wall. I wasn’t about to start spray painting that wall with me so I took my time finding the brake markers.

I’m 6 foot nothing and weigh in at 195 lbs. and had trouble getting completely tucked in. I sampled both the standard 1199 S and a performance kitted version with double bubble screen and extra ponies from the Termignoni exhaust.

The Ducati engineers told me the Termignoni exhaust adds another eight horsepower bringing the equation up to 203 horsepower. The heavy weight punching power of this future champion along with its bantam weight of 367 lbs. dry simply blew me away, literally.

I simply had to admit to myself that it was time to reduce top speed to improve my own performance. The 1199 Panigale will simply go on and on and according to the old WSBK champ Troy Bayliss it will do around 193 mph.

I saw 168 mph but my vision started to blur at this point helped by the sand in the air so had to focus ahead and look for invisible brake markers. All I can say is that Ducati’s new Superquadro engine is one of such awesome power and clever high tech that it wrote itself into the history books before Chuck Norris noticed.

The Panigale is just unbelievably nimble through corners and directional changes. I had to pinch myself in the arm and reiterate the fact that this is in fact a 1200cc superbike and not a 600cc supersport on steroids because that’s how it feels. Let me give you some hinters on how it compares in this area to what will become its arch nemesis for the road crowd.

The 1199 Panigale will blow the BMW S 1000 RR away big time both in handling, power to weight ratio and electronics. Ducati of course set out from the beginning to do this and after my test at Yas Marina Circuit I can confirm with all but 100% accuracy that they have achieved it. A comparison test is needed to establish facts to the 100% but it’s not going to be a big gamble taking my word on this one.

The new Monocoque frame is taken directly from Ducati’s MotoGP experiences and for the first time in a lineage running all the way back to 1994, the 1199 superbike uses a non trellis frame.

One of many positive effects is the nimbleness achieved through the super centralized weight balance. It’s just so easy to go from full left lean to full right lean compared to the 1198. Suddenly Ducati have a super flickable superbike that doesn’t require quite the super hero of the past to ride it like a hero.

The one and only thing capable of upsetting the handling is the mighty engine and that’s all been dealt with by way of electronics, top suspension and very sticky tires. On our riding day there was one other thing upsetting straight line stability and that was high winds with fine grains of sand. I basically experienced tank slappers from third to sixth gear due to the strong side winds. Not a day to be a wheelie hero I tell you!

The problem with this is that I can’t praise high speed stability because I don’t really know whether the Panigale has any! You’ll have to read some tests from earlier in the week and see what others are saying basically.

What I can tell you are that it has been built for speed and everything from the exclusive Pirelli Supercorsa’s to frame and aerodynamics are there for high speed stability. A heavier bike might well have been more stable on this day, something like the Hayabusa. There is one thing Ducati can’t control and that’s the weather.

The new Brembo Monoblock 50M’s have been trimmed but still provide the same brain bashing power as before. On the Panigale S the 330mm brake discs are spaced out 15mm for extra air-cooling. New is also a higher and wider handlebar (no, not supermotard style wide but still…) that allows the rider to control the extra power with more comfort and authority.

I found that braking very hard from above 125 mph was much less straining than on the 1198 and performing the “handshake” test after riding allowed for a coffee with no spillage. This is good news but braking hard is always going to be a physical thing and even with EBC set to level one I experienced a decent amount of tail wagging.

I like riding that way and it’s much in the same way as a dog wagging its tail when it’s excited. I was excited and the Panigale provided my reaction. The Panigale S was fitted with race ABS which means it only has ABS on the front and analogue foot on lever at the back. This is one ABS I can recommend and particularly as there isn’t any SC2 compound on the pattern part of the Pirelli Supercorsa SP front tire.

With Superbike SC2 slicks I’d contemplate turning the ABS off but not on road tires such as the Supercorsa. The Ducati ABS allow stoppies on a warm tire to a certain point which is higher than any other ABS I have tried and this is good.

The Ducati Panigale provided me with all the confidence I needed in the braking game and I knew that if I had to overtake or prevent an incident the brakes would be well up to pushing further than I’d dare for normal circulation.

I could brake late and way into the corners but the Yas Marina circuit favored a smoother riding style with all its high speed corners so it was all about carrying speed in many of the corners. In the tighter corners I love the Panigale as it just goes exactly where I want it to be.

With a certain frightful delight I knew that I could just push further and accelerate harder earlier if I wanted to. The traction control kicked-in in pretty much every corner almost unnoticeable apart from the fact that the handlebars tells you what’s going on.

Just make sure the front tire is up for it and the rest will follow at any angle. In certain photos it is obvious that there is a longer single sided swingarm in place. This is to handle the extra horsepower, prevent excessive wheelies and provide higher stability but the new swingarm still weighs the same 11 lbs. as before.

The 1199 Panigale S features high quality Ohlins electronic suspension that follow the customisable riding modes. I could probably have used a harder set up both front and back as the Panigale was very wheelie prone and not as planted at high speed as I could have wished for (due to wind).

I am particularly impressed with the TTX36 laterally mounted rear shock as it provides great feel with the 200/55-ZR17 Pirelli Supercorsa SP rear tire. Going off and hard on the throttle through tight corners just provided ample feedback and whilst the rear did slide a lot only once did it slide fast enough out to prevent optimum acceleration.

On purpose I used first gear everywhere I could to give maximum stress to the rear and I’m really impressed because first gear on a 203 horsepower Panigale S should be a fearsome place to be exiting slow corners hard. The only reason I short shifted up to second was to prevent wheelies and the bike would already be upright by then. Racers will just dab a little on the rear brake to achieve the same but with even heftier acceleration.

Kicking up the six-speed gearbox is made very easy with the DQS (Ducati Quick Shifter) that enables full throttle up shifts. I enjoyed watching the new speedometer console where the red lights come swarming towards the middle from both sides. Very trick indeed! A small orange light indicates when traction control is in operation which is a lot when in Race mode when level 3 is standard.

With four 15 minute sessions on a long circuit you will always leave feeling that there are still a million things to test and the Ducati 1199 Panigale S is one bike that I will strive to get more time on as I think incredible things could happen to my lap times. I have opted to write this review with a focus on the riding itself rather than explaining all the technical features in detail which Ducati have already done in many press releases. My main focus has been to get across that all this works and it works well.

2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale S Final Thoughts:

Wow, what a day it has been! The Superquadro engine is brutal in all the ways that I love. I am very confident in saying that the Ducati 1199 Panigale S is the ultimate motorcycle and that it has been presented on the ultimate launch event at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.

There’s nothing but dribble in this review but in the exact meaning of the word and not the malicious. So drool, drool, drool and wear your bib when hitting your Ducati dealer. This is the machine to own in 2012, 2013 and probably 2014.

2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale S Positives:

  • Superquadro twin engine is massively exciting and good.
  • Chassis massively improved to 1198 for everything that doesn’t involve Carlos Checa or Troy Bayliss.
  • Superb electronics package
  • ABS brakes that isn’t just for old men with German accents.

By Tor Sagen

Photos: Milagro